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Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
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A genius of extraordinary technical talent and perception, Rembrandt van Rijn was one of the foremost painters of the 17th century, a talented printmaker who pushed the medium of etching to new heights and a masterful draftsman. Over his long career he created about 400 paintings, some 315 etchings and perhaps 800 drawings (a number in dispute among scholars). Born in Leiden in 1606 and educated at the local Latin school and then Leiden University, his artistic training began in 1621 with the Leiden painter Jacob van Swanenburgh (1571-1638). Apprenticed to the celebrated Amsterdam history painter Pieter Lastman (1583-1633) for six months around 1625, he learned the narrative techniques of history painting. Rembrandt returned to Leiden in 1625 or 1626, where for a time he shared a studio with Jan Lievens (1607-1674). Rembrandt began experimenting with etching in 1626, often in combination with drypoint, and soon achieved great skill with the medium. Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), the secretary to the Stadtholder Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange (1584-1647), was among the early admirers of the two young artists, and noted their talents in his autobiography. Rembrandt’s first pupil, Gerard Dou (1613-1675), began studying with him in 1628. Rembrandt began painting commissioned portraits in the workshop of Amsterdam painter and art dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh (ca. 1587-1661) in 1631 and quickly became very successful, producing individual and group portraits. Examples include the Museums’ Portrait of Joris de Caulerij and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (The Hague: Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis), both from 1632. He lived in Uylenburgh’s house while in Amsterdam, but maintained his Leiden studio until 1633 and worked in The Hague in 1632 for the Prince of Orange. In 1634 Rembrandt married Saskia Uylenburgh (1612-1642), daughter of a Frisian burgomaster and Uylenburgh’s niece, became a citizen of Amsterdam and joined the artists’ Guild of St. Luke. By the end of the decade he had achieved an international reputation for his portraits and his paintings and etchings on historical and biblical subjects. He accepted pupils, including Govert Flinck (1615-1660) and Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680), and eventually built up a substantial workshop. He bought a very expensive house in 1639, paying in installments. His prosperity led him to extravagance in collecting prints, paintings, seashells and curiosities. Rembrandt completed the fabled Night Watch (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum) in 1642. During the 1640s Rembrandt explored the landscape genre, such as the etching The Landscape with the Three Trees in 1643 (B. 212). His etched portraits from this decade include those of Ephraim Bueno, Jewish Physician (B. 278) and Jan Six (B. 285), both done in 1647. He also suffered reversals during the decade, most notably Saskia's death in 1642, which had been preceded by the deaths of three of their four children. The widow Geertge Dircx (1600/10–1656?), hired to be a nurse for his son Titus (1641-1668), became his mistress. When he dismissed her in 1649, Geertge sued him for breach of promise of marriage, leading to a financial settlement after a bitter legal fight. The much-younger Hendrickje Stoffels (1626-1663) became the caretaker for Titus, and soon became Rembrandt’s mistress; he could not marry her without jeopardizing a trust Saskia left for Titus. The household drama apparently interfered with his art; he painted but little at the end of the decade. He returned to form in the 1650s. Examples of his paintings include the 1654 portrait of his wealthy friend Jan Six (1618-1700; Amsterdam: Six Collection), thought to be his greatest portrait; his prints include the drypoint Christ Crucified Between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses) (1653, B. 78). However, his extravagant lifestyle left him deeply in debt. In 1656 Rembrandt petitioned the Supreme Court in The Hague for “cessio bonorum,” an insolvency procedure that protected him from creditors in return for the sale of all his assets; the sale inventory is of great interest to scholars today. He moved into modest rented quarters with Titus and Hendrickje; they took over his art business with Rembrandt as their employee to protect him from creditors. In his later years Rembrandt developed a broader manner of execution realized in a darker palette, which fell out of fashion, but was well suited to the introspective portraits and biblical subjects that fascinated him. His last official commission, a large painted allegory for Amsterdam’s then-new Town Hall, was rejected in 1662. His companion Hendrickje died of the plague in 1663. Rembrandt was active at the end of his life; one of his last portrait paintings is from 1667. His son Titus died in 1668 leaving a pregnant wife, who gave birth to a daughter the following year. Rembrandt died on October 4, 1669. (TNB 1/2013) Selected bibliography: Ackley, Clifford S., et al. Rembrandt’s Journey: Painter, Draftsman, Etcher. Exhibition catalog. Boston: MFA Publications, 2003. Slive, Seymour. Rembrandt Drawings. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2009.